Franchise 500

The Top 5 Franchises of the 21st Century

Which franchises have earned a top-five spot on our Franchise 500 list since 2001?
The Top 5 Franchises of the 21st Century
Image credit: tofumax | Getty Images
Entrepreneur Staff
Associate Editor, Contributed Content
5 min read

Each year, Entrepreneur breaks down the best franchise investments in its Franchise 500 list. Using objective metrics like price and social reach, the Franchise 500 can give potential franchisees a jumping-off point for their research. Are you interested in starting a fast-food restaurant? You might check the list to see whether McDonald’s or Dairy Queen is more highly rated. Want to open a hotel? The Franchise 500 can give you an idea of which brand can help you succeed.

Of course, these rankings are general advice, and they may not apply to you. You should always do further research about franchising itself and franchise investments before making a decision.

But, there are a few businesses that pop up over and over again on our Franchise 500. They deserve some praise for their longevity and consistency.

See which franchises have most frequently appeared in the top five on our Franchise 500 list since 2001.

1. Subway

Subway has appeared in the top five of the Franchise 500 a whopping 14 times since 2001, well ahead of the second-place business. However, it’s fallen in recent years, going from the No. 5 entry in 2016 to No. 35 in 2017 and No. 105 this year. Part of this has to do with the fact that the number of U.S. franchises have fallen over the past few years, from 26,972 in 2015 to a mere 26,291 in 2017.

  • CEO: Suzanne Greco
  • Business headquarters: Millford, Conn.
  • Franchising since: 1974
  • Initial investment: $147,050 to $320,700
  • Initial franchise fee: $15,000
  • New units in 2017: -222 units (-0.5 percent)
  • Training: 33 hours on the job, 62 hours in the classroom
  • Marketing support: Co-op advertising, ad templates, national media, regional advertising, social media, SEO, website development, email marketing, loyalty program/app

2. 7-Eleven

7-Eleven ranked No. 2 on the 2002 Franchise 500 list, and it ranked No. 2 in 2018. It’s finished in the top five 11 out of 18 times since 2001. The convenience store chain just keeps growing, too, adding 3,336 units in 2017. Most of 7-Eleven’s growth has come overseas, as it has 54,061 international franchises, but its domestic improvement is notable, too. The company has grown from 4,330 U.S. franchises in 2008 to 7,025 in 2017, a 62.2 percent increase.

  • CEO: Joseph DePinto
  • Business headquarters: Dallas
  • Franchising since: 1964
  • Initial investment: $37,550 to $1,149,900
  • Initial franchise fee: $10,000 to $1,000,000
  • New units in 2017: 3,336 units (5.7 percent)
  • Training: 240 hours on the job, 24 hours in the classroom
  • Marketing support: Co-op advertising, ad templates, national media, regional advertising, social media, SEO, website development, email marketing, loyalty program/app 

3. McDonald’s

When you think of powerful franchise brands, McDonald's has to be near the top of the list. By our count, there are more than 34,000 McDonald’s restaurants around the world, and the Golden Arches have appeared in the top five of the Franchise 500 list eight times since 2001, including the top spot this year.

  • CEO: Steve Easterbrook
  • Business headquarters: Oak Brook, Ill.
  • Franchising since: 1955
  • Initial investment: $1,008,000 to $2,214,080
  • Initial franchise fee: $45,000
  • New units in 2017: 507 units (1.4 percent)
  • Training: 6 to 24 months on the job, 75 hours in the classroom
  • Marketing support: Co-op advertising, ad templates, national media, regional advertising, social media, loyalty program/app

Related: Quiz: How Much Do You Really Know About McDonald's? 

4. Hampton by Hilton

Hampton by Hilton has been ranked in the top five of the Franchise 500 six times since 2001, good for fourth-most overall. However, the hotel restaurant franchise dominated the early 21st century, ranking No. 1 overall four out of five years. Though that ranking has fallen a little of late, the company is still ranked No. 29 overall this year -- first among hotel and motel franchises.

  • CEO: Christopher Nassetta
  • Business headquarters: McLean, Va.
  • Franchising since: 1984
  • Initial investment: $6,909,090 to $17,088,860
  • Initial franchise fee: $75,000
  • New units in 2017: 128 units (6.0 percent)
  • Training: Varies
  • Marketing support: Co-op advertising, ad templates, national media, regional advertising, social media, SEO, website development, email marketing, loyalty program/app

5. The UPS Store

In 2001, Mail Boxes Etc. was purchased by UPS and renamed The UPS Store. The same year, The UPS Store was ranked No. 2 in our Franchise 500, and it’s been ranked in the top five another five times since, including this year, when it is ranked No. 4.

  • CEO: Tim Davis
  • Business headquarters: San Diego, Calif.
  • Franchising since: 1980
  • Initial investment: $177,955 to $402,595
  • Initial franchise fee: $29,950
  • New units in 2017: 69 units (1.4 percent)
  • Training: 80 hours on the job, 72 hours in the classroom
  • Marketing support: Co-op advertising, ad templates, national media, regional advertising, social media, SEO, website development, email marketing, loyalty program/app

Related: Our Top 5 Franchises You Can Run From Your Own Home

Full list of top five franchises since 2001

2001

  1. Subway
  2. The UPS Store
  3. McDonald’s
  4. Jiffy Lube International
  5. Taco Bell

2002

  1. Subway
  2. Jackson Hewitt Tax Service
  3. Curves
  4. 7-Eleven
  5. Yogen Fruz

2003

  1. Subway
  2. Curves
  3. 7-Eleven
  4. McDonald’s
  5. Jani-King

2004

  1. Subway
  2. Curves
  3. Quiznos Sub
  4. 7-Eleven
  5. Jackson Hewitt Tax Service

2005

  1. Subway
  2. Curves
  3. Quiznos Sub
  4. Jackson Hewitt Tax Service
  5. The UPS Store

2006

  1. Subway
  2. Quiznos Sub
  3. Curves
  4. The UPS Store
  5. Jackson Hewitt Tax Service

2007

  1. Subway
  2. Dunkin’ Donuts
  3. Jackson Hewitt Tax Service
  4. 7-Eleven
  5. The UPS Store

2008

  1. 7-Eleven
  2. Subway
  3. Dunkin’ Donuts
  4. Pizza Hut LLC
  5. McDonald’s

2009

  1. Subway
  2. McDonald’s
  3. Liberty Tax Service
  4. Sonic Drive-In Restaurants
  5. InterContinental Hotels Group

2010

  1. Subway
  2. McDonald’s
  3. 7-Eleven
  4. Hampton by Hilton
  5. Supercuts

2011

  1. Hampton by Hilton
  2. Ampm
  3. McDonald’s
  4. 7-Eleven
  5. Supercuts

2012

  1. Hampton by Hilton
  2. Subway
  3. 7-Eleven
  4. Servpro
  5. Days Inn

2013

  1. Hampton by Hilton
  2. Subway
  3. Jiffy Lube International
  4. 7-Eleven
  5. Supercuts

2014

  1. Anytime Fitness
  2. Hampton by Hilton
  3. Subway
  4. Supercuts
  5. Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches

2015

  1. Hampton by Hilton
  2. Anytime Fitness
  3. Subway
  4. Jack in the Box
  5. Supercuts

2016

  1. Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches
  2. Hampton by Hilton
  3. Supercuts
  4. Servpro
  5. Subway

2017

  1. 7-Eleven
  2. McDonald’s
  3. Dunkin’ Donuts
  4. The UPS Store
  5. Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches

2018

  1. McDonald’s
  2. 7-Eleven
  3. Dunkin’ Donuts
  4. The UPS Store
  5. Re/Max LLC

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